(Isaiah 50:4-9a, Psalm 31:9-16, Philippians 2:5-11)
(watch here: https://youtu.be/n4R-3Doa9MA)
11Now Jesus stood before the governor; and the governor asked him, ‘Are you the King of the Jews?’ Jesus said, ‘You say so.’ 12But when he was accused by the chief priests and elders, he did not answer. 13Then Pilate said to him, ‘Do you not hear how many accusations they make against you?’ 14But he gave him no answer, not even to a single charge, so that the governor was greatly amazed.
15Now at the festival the governor was accustomed to release a prisoner for the crowd, anyone whom they wanted. 16At that time they had a notorious prisoner, called Jesus* Barabbas. 17So after they had gathered, Pilate said to them, ‘Whom do you want me to release for you, Jesus* Barabbas or Jesus who is called the Messiah?’* 18For he realized that it was out of jealousy that they had handed him over. 19While he was sitting on the judgement seat, his wife sent word to him, ‘Have nothing to do with that innocent man, for today I have suffered a great deal because of a dream about him.’ 20Now the chief priests and the elders persuaded the crowds to ask for Barabbas and to have Jesus killed. 21The governor again said to them, ‘Which of the two do you want me to release for you?’ And they said, ‘Barabbas.’ 22Pilate said to them, ‘Then what should I do with Jesus who is called the Messiah?’* All of them said, ‘Let him be crucified!’ 23Then he asked, ‘Why, what evil has he done?’ But they shouted all the more, ‘Let him be crucified!’
24So when Pilate saw that he could do nothing, but rather that a riot was beginning, he took some water and washed his hands before the crowd, saying, ‘I am innocent of this man’s blood;* see to it yourselves.’ 25Then the people as a whole answered, ‘His blood be on us and on our children!’ 26So he released Barabbas for them; and after flogging Jesus, he handed him over to be crucified.
27Then the soldiers of the governor took Jesus into the governor’s headquarters,* and they gathered the whole cohort around him. 28They stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him, 29and after twisting some thorns into a crown, they put it on his head. They put a reed in his right hand and knelt before him and mocked him, saying, ‘Hail, King of the Jews!’ 30They spat on him, and took the reed and struck him on the head. 31After mocking him, they stripped him of the robe and put his own clothes on him. Then they led him away to crucify him.
32As they went out, they came upon a man from Cyrene named Simon; they compelled this man to carry his cross. 33And when they came to a place called Golgotha (which means Place of a Skull), 34they offered him wine to drink, mixed with gall; but when he tasted it, he would not drink it. 35And when they had crucified him, they divided his clothes among themselves by casting lots;* 36then they sat down there and kept watch over him. 37Over his head they put the charge against him, which read, ‘This is Jesus, the King of the Jews.’
38Then two bandits were crucified with him, one on his right and one on his left. 39Those who passed by derided* him, shaking their heads 40and saying, ‘You who would destroy the temple and build it in three days, save yourself! If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross.’ 41In the same way the chief priests also, along with the scribes and elders, were mocking him, saying, 42‘He saved others; he cannot save himself.* He is the King of Israel; let him come down from the cross now, and we will believe in him. 43He trusts in God; let God deliver him now, if he wants to; for he said, “I am God’s Son.” ’ 44The bandits who were crucified with him also taunted him in the same way.
45From noon on, darkness came over the whole land* until three in the afternoon. 46And about three o’clock Jesus cried with a loud voice, ‘Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?’ that is, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ 47When some of the bystanders heard it, they said, ‘This man is calling for Elijah.’ 48At once one of them ran and got a sponge, filled it with sour wine, put it on a stick, and gave it to him to drink. 49But the others said, ‘Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to save him.’* 50Then Jesus cried again with a loud voice and breathed his last.* 51At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. The earth shook, and the rocks were split. 52The tombs also were opened, and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised. 53After his resurrection they came out of the tombs and entered the holy city and appeared to many. 54Now when the centurion and those with him, who were keeping watch over Jesus, saw the earthquake and what took place, they were terrified and said, ‘Truly this man was God’s Son!’*
In preparation of the 500th year celebration of the Protestant Reformation later this year, we decided to dedicate one Sunday a month for 8 months to exploring the various elements of Martin Luther’s Small Catechism. It just so happens that this month’s “catechism” Sunday falls on Palm Sunday. We could have postponed it until a later Sunday in the month but given that we will dwell heavily on the Passion narrative on Thursday, Friday, and next Sunday, dedicating this Sunday to Luther’s catechism wouldn’t necessarily detract from the vitality and essence of Holy Week. If anything, Luther’s wisdom might set us in the right frame of mind as we enter Holy Week
Recall we tackled Luther’s reflections on the first five commandments during last month’s study. This month we will dwell in his reflections on the remaining five commandments. All ten commandments help to guide our relationships with God and with each other. The first three commandments deal specifically with how we are to behave in our relationship with God: we are to commit all our love and honor to him, the one and only God; we are not to blaspheme his holy name; and we are to hallow one day a week as He hallowed one day in his creation. Our relationships with God should be our primary relationships…the relationships we ought to care about the most. Hence, the first three commandments dealing with our relationships with God. Next in the line of importance is our relationships with our parents. We are to hold our parents in great esteem and honor and obey them just as we honor and obey our heavenly Father. Parents are a blessing not to be ignored or dismissed. They can provide vital and essential relationships.
We move down the line of importance to our relationships with our neighbors. The remaining six commandments help guide and structure our relationships with each other. First and foremost, we are commanded not to kill our neighbor, either physically, mentally, or spiritually. Of course, this is of utmost importance…if we kill our neighbor, we no longer have a relationship with them! Don’t do it!! And listen to Luther’s nuanced teaching—‘killing’ is more than just bodily death. It includes death of the spirit and mind too. We must never work to kill the spirits and minds of our neighbors. We must always work to support and elevate our neighbors…to protect and serve our neighbors. After all, it is in and through our neighbor that we find Jesus in this world. Believe it or not, we need our neighbors if only for the opportunity to witness Christ in this world. We need our neighbors to witness love in this world.
So we pick up with God’s 6th commandment: we are not to commit adultery. Adultery isn’t simply about people having sexual relations outside the covenant of marriage. Adultery isn’t simply about inappropriate sex. No, adultery is an affront on the blessed institution of marriage. Luther offers:
You should carefully note, first, how highly God honors and praises this walk of life, endorsing and protecting it by his commandment…he also wishes us to honor, maintain, and cherish it as a divine and blessed walk of life…he has established it before all others as the first of all institutions…God has therefore blessed this walk of life most richly, above all others, and, in addition, has supplied and endowed it with everything in the world in order that this walk of life might be richly provided for… it is of utmost importance to him that persons be brought up to serve the world, to promote knowledge of God, godly living, and all virtues, and to fight against wickedness and the devil…you should also remember that it is not just an honorable walk of life but also a necessary one.
When we engage in adultery, we attack God’s highly honored and praise walk of life. We attack God’s most cherished of institutions in this world. It is a walk, an institution, that brings out the best of us. It enables us to live lives of genuine service, of genuine authenticity, and of genuine gratitude. Adultery is an attack and affront on God’s most blessed walk of life and institution.
Moving down the line of importance, we are commanded not to steal from our neighbor. Stealing is more than simply taking that which doesn’t belong to you. Stealing is about hurting your neighbor. Stealing is about taking from your neighbor without giving anything in return. Of course, this is directly harmful to your neighbor. As Luther notes:
Let all people know, then, that it is their duty, on pain of God’s displeasure, not to harm their neighbors, to take advantage of them, or to defraud them by any faithless or underhanded business transaction. Much more than that, they are also obligated faithfully to protect their neighbor’s property and to promote and further their interests, especially when they get money, wages, and provisions for doing so…we are forbidden to do our neighbors any injury or wrong in any way imaginable, whether by damaging, withholding, or interfering with their possessions and property. In addition, we are commanded to promote and further our neighbors’ interests, and when they suffer any want, we are to help, share, and lend to both friends and foes.
Per God’s 8th commandment, we are not to bear false witness against our neighbors. When we bear false witness, we again seek to harm our neighbor, albeit indirectly. Bearing false witness hurts our neighbor’s honor and reputation which, in turn, has the potential for bodily, spiritual, or mental harm. Luther writes:
God does not want our neighbors deprived of their reputation, honor, and character any more than of their money and possessions; he wants everyone to maintain self-respect before spouse, child, servant, and neighbor…honor and good name are easily taken away but not easily restored…you should not be quick to spread slander and gossip about your neighbors but admonish them privately so that they may improve… No one shall say anything evil of a neighbor, whether true or false, unless it is done with proper authority or for that person’s improvement. Rather, we should use our tongue to speak only the best about all people, to cover the sins and infirmities of our neighbors, to justify their actions, and to cloak the sins and infirmities of our neighbors, to justify their actions, and to cloak and veil them with our own honor.
Bearing false witness goes against our calling to love and serve our neighbors but instead works to kill our neighbors, again an act admonished by God’s 5th commandment.
Luther collectively addresses the last two commandments: we are not to covet our neighbor’s house, wife, manservant, maidservant, cattle, or anything that is his. Coveting or envying our neighbor’s possessions eventually leads to harmful interactions with our them. As Luther commented:
We are commanded not to desire to harm our neighbors, nor to assist in doing harm, nor to give occasion for it. Instead, we are gladly to let them have what is theirs and to promote and protect whatever may be profitable and serviceable to them, just as we wish others would do for us…these commandments are aimed directly against envy and miserable covetousness, so that God may remove the root and cause from which arise all injuries to our neighbors.
As we have heard, Luther pondered at length on the meaning and purpose of God’s ten commandments. They are important for guiding our relationships with God and with each other. They are rather simple and straightforward yet profound in their applications. Just think of all the laws that have stemmed from these ten! As we go forth into Holy Week, let us be grateful for our God sending us not only his beloved Son but also the powerful wisdom found in his commandments. I’ll leave you with Luther’s concluding thoughts on the commandments:
These words contain both a wrathful threat and a friendly promise, not only to terrify and warn us but also to attract and allure us, so that we will receive and regard God’s Word as seriously as he does. For God declares how important the commandments are to him and how strictly he will watch over them, namely, that he will fearfully and terribly punish all who despise and transgress his commandments; and again, how richly he will reward, bless, and bestow all good things on those who prize them and gladly act and live in accordance with them. Thus, he demands that all our actions proceed from a heart that fears God, looks to him alone, and because of this fear avoids all that is contrary to his will, let he be moved to wrath. Conversely, he demands that our actions proceed from a heart that trusts in him alone and for his sake does all that he asks of us, because he reveals himself as a kind father and offers us every grace and blessing.
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.